Defining Who Holds the Power of the State in the Exercise of Legislative Functions

The executive, whether king, monarch, dictator, emperor, president or prime minister, is charged with carrying out the laws of the State and undertaking external protection actions as may be required.  The question arises, however, as to where the legislative power resides; in other words, “who is the representative of the State” for purposes of developing and making laws.  The more authoritarian the regime, the more this legislative power is concentrated in the executive or at least under the control and direction of the executive.

Sri Aurobindo explores the issue:  “Is the embodiment of the intellect, will and conscience of the society to be a king and his counsellors or a theocratic, autocratic or plutocratic governing class or a body which shall at least seem to stand sufficiently for the whole society, or is to be a compromise between some or all of these possibilities?  The whole course of constitutional history has turned upon this question and to all appearance wavered obscurely between various possibilities; but in reality, we can see that throughout there has been acting the pressure of a necessity which travelled indeed through the monarchical, aristocratic and other stages, but had to debouch in the end in a democratic form of government.  The king in his attempt to be the State — an attempt imposed on him by the impulse of his evolution — must try indeed to become the fountain as well as the head of the law; he must seek to engross the legislative as well as the administrative functions of the society, its side of efficient thought as well as its side of efficient action.  But even in so doing he was only preparing the way for the democratic State.”

As modern society extends the reach of education, and provides the entire society with the ability to obtain and respond to information about their lives, needs and society, it becomes theoretically possible to develop a society that relies on a large and diverse citizenry, awake and grappling with the issues, to create a democratic governing form that can succeed.  Obviously, the transition from a central control to a distributed system of control (monarchy to democracy for instance) involves some serious issues to be resolved, not least of which is the initial power held by the central control and the ability (and vested interests) of that control to withhold meaning education or information, or to manipulate it so as to mislead or otherwise control the populace; eventually however, any system that imbalances the access, and benefits provided to  all members of the society will be called upon to embrace change or face disruptive action to catalyze that change.  The American Revolution, the French Revolution, the liberation of nations formerly controlled by imperial powers, all represent movements in this direction.

Sri Aurobindo, The Ideal of Human Unity, Part Two, Chapter 21, The Drive towards Legislative and Social Centralisation and Uniformity, pp. 184-185